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Sally Clark
Binh Danh
Ian Everard
James Fee
Shelby Graham
Hanna Hannah
Robin Kandel
Aaron Kerner
Elyse Koren-Camarra
Keith Muscutt
Katsushige Nakahashi
Rebecca Ramos
Hideki Shiozawa
Robynn Smith
Kenji Yanobe
Katsushige Nakahashi

On the Day is the most significant and ambitious piece in this exhibition of Collapsing Histories. Nakahashi on March 1, 2004, photographed the concrete dome on the small island of Runit in the Enewetak Atoll. Several tests were conducted here and the Americans used one of the craters created by a test blast as a dumping site, and have since capped it with a concrete dome. This concrete dome houses the radioactive waste left behind after a series of nuclear tests in the Marshal Islands. Nakahashi photographed the Runit Dome 5,000 times and throughout the Collapsing Histories exhibition, he along with volunteers will assemble the Runit Dome – a la David Hockney – spanning 12 meters.

The significance of this piece is multi-layered. The first and most obvious point is that Nakahashi photographed – from sunrise to sunset – exactly 50 years to the day of the Bravo test blast which we know had grave consequences for the Daigo Fukuryu Maru. Because photography possesses unique attributes of capturing time and space, and by exhibiting this work in the Daigo Fukuryu Maru Exhibition Hall – essentially on top of it – Nakahashi has collapsed the contemporary and the historical moment as well as the physical topography of the Runit Dome and the Daigo Fukuryu Maru Exhibition Hall.

The Fukuryu Maru – the vessel itself – after 1954 changed hands a couple of times and was eventually abandoned, left in the Yumenoshima landfill; cast off as if just an ordinary piece of rubbish. The Runit Dome parallels the geographic history of Yumenoshima. The Runit Dome also encases rubbish, but this is the waste of American nuclear testing. Contaminated by radioactive fallout the Fukuryu Maru might well have been destined for Runit and perhaps by placing the image of the Runit Dome over the Fukuryu Maru Nakashashi has metaphorically buried it there.

The Runit Dome – an inverted crater – has other connotations. In a recent conversation with a Japanese journalist, Onishi Wakato, he mentioned the similarities of the Runit Dome and that of Tokyo Dome which is featured in Otomo’s Akira. Indeed, this is not just a matter of formal characteristics, but rather in Otomo’s Akira the dome itself is secondary, what lies buried beneath it is what really matters. In Otomo’s narrative Akira is akin to Gojira, he is at once the embodiment of supreme power and at the same time hibakusha. The remnants of Akira’s body are buried beneath Tokyo Dome, awaiting further research so that his power might be harnessed. The convergence of all these narratives – Gojira, Akira and historical events – fall under the radial point of Nakahashi Runit Dome and the collapsing of all these narratives suggest that all have a common origin.

In prior exhibitions of Collapsing Histories Nakahashi’s Zero Projects were featured. In a culture that prizes Mickey Mouse over Kabuki, and champions the values of cuteness, infantilism, and adolescent visions of eroticism, Nakahashi’s Zero Projects seem sorely out of place. The fetishistic visions that pervade Japanese culture, Nakahashi’s work is incongruous with contemporary Japanese visual culture. His work bears the marks of nostalgia; but an imperfect, distorted, and malleable nostalgia. His work is a reflection upon the past, but through the lens of time and competing ideologies. Nakahashi has been touring with the Super Flat exhibition; a show of some of Japan's most high profile contemporary artists. Using tens-of-thousands of photographs of a model Zero, Nakahashi creates full-scale replicas of the Japanese World War II vintage fighter planes. After each exhibition, the artist ceremoniously carries his work to an open space and burns it. We can take this ceremonious activity two ways, without excluding either possibility. First, following the Japanese cultural propensity to consume, the Japanese also produce copious amounts of rubbish. Wrapping paper for packages, plastic bags, perhaps only used for a short walk from the subway station home, is unceremoniously discarded; and eventually incinerated. Here too, with Nakahashi's replica Zero, we have a symbol of former cultural and technological prowess, which is likewise discarded. Nakahashi, however, outlines the conflict by turning this process into a ceremonious activity: the performance of burning his Zero calls attention to the fact that Japan has exchanged colonial and military prowess to become a culture of voracious consumers. Further, beyond this cycle of consumption and incineration, the Japanese cremate their dead. By transporting his work in a procession of sorts, the burning of Nakahashi's Zero sculptures parallels the funeral rituals performed in Japan. Which begs the question: What has died? Military prowess, Japanese traditional values, or cultural memory?

Understanding something of Nakahashi's work in a Japanese context is paramount, however, we cannot neglect the connotations his work has taken on following Nine-Eleven. Comparisons, no mater how incongruous, or equitable, they maybe, are how we comprehend our world. Immediately following the attacks, once we knew that it was not an accident that a plane had flown into the World Trade Center, in order to comprehend what had taken place, we began the process of comparison: it was like ..., it was as if .... "It was as if I was watching a movie." One of the first comparisons that arose was the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Indeed, both were thought to be "surprise attacks," and Nine-Eleven has become yet another "Day of Infamy." To comprehend the incomprehensible we attempt to construct meaning through comparisons. I suspect that there is more to the Pearl Harbor comparison, than what appears on the surface. For if we follow the logic of displacement, the unconscious substitution of one thing for another, we might recognize that the more equitable comparison is that of the Kamikaze. Clearly Nakahashi's work was never intended to be figured in these terms, but, now as an attempt to comprehend the incomprehensible, the malleable form of Nakahashi's sculpture is filled with new meanings.


See images from Nakahashi's
"Bikini Project: On the day"

Click here for images from the Bikini Project.

From earlier exhibitions of Collapsing Histories
stills from video footage
Katsushige Nakahashi Video Still 1 Katsushige Nakahashi Video Still 2
Katsushige Nakahashi Video Still 3 Katsushige Nakahashi Video Still 4
Katsushige Nakahashi Video Still 5